The rise of the Indian diaspora in the United States
In the 1920s, fewer than 10,000 Indians resided in the United States. In 1946, the U.S. Congress passed the Luce-Celler Act, which established an immigration quota of 100 Indian nationals per year. It was sponsored by Clare Booth Luce, a Republican, and by the already mentioned Democrat, Emmanuel Celler, a Jewish Congressman well known for both his pro-Indian outlook and his support for Jewish concerns. Later, he would play an important role in encouraging the Indian government to recognize Israel. In 1965, the U.S. Congress lifted quotas on Indian immigrants completely, leading to a significant increase of Indian migration to the U.S. from the late 1960s onward.
Today, there are approximately 3.2 million Indians in the United States, representing about one percent of the country’s total population. Indian Americans are the 3rd largest Asian group in the United States, after Chinese Americans (4 million) and Filipino Americans (3.4 million).48 The majority of Indian Americans (51 percent) are Hindu. Christian Indians, who constitute only 3 percent of India’s population, are over represented at 18 percent, 10 percent are Muslim, and the remaining are Sikh, Jain, Buddhist or unaffiliated.49
Indian Americans are among the best educated and highest earning minority groups in the United States.50 Seven-in-ten Indian-American adults aged 25 and older hold a college degree, compared with about half of Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Filipino Americans, and about a quarter of Vietnamese Americans.51 This exceeds the matriculation rate of American Jews, of whom close to 80 percent have some college education but only 60 percent hold a college degree.52 Hindu Indians are significantly more likely to hold post-graduate degrees (58 percent) than their non-Hindu (mainly Muslim) counterparts (36 percent).53
This educational attainment is reflected in family income and occupational status. The median Indian household income is $88,000, which is significantly higher than that of all other Asian minorities and the general U.S. public (about $50,000). Again, the situation of Hindu Indians is markedly better than that of non-Hindu Indians: 51 percent of Hindu-Indian adults live in households earning at least $100,000 yearly, compared with 34 percent of non-Hindu Indian Americans. Among American Jews, the figure is 46 percent.54 Indian Americans are over-represented in several highly skilled professions: although only 1 percent of the total U.S. population, they constitute 3 percent of the country’s engineers, 7 percent of its IT workers, and 8 percent of its physicians.55 Indian American success in Silicon Valley is particularly striking.56 In the last two decades, Indian Americans have come to the forefront of immigrant-led entrepreneurship. The proportion of Silicon Valley’s immigrant-founded start-ups launched by Indian entrepreneurs rose from 25 percent in 1995-2005 to 32 percent in 2006-2012, largely overtaking Chinese entrepreneurs (who decreased from 12.8 percent to 5.4 percent in the same period). And whereas the proportion in Silicon Valley of immigrant-founded start-ups has decreased from 52.4 percent to 43.9 percent since 2007, the rate of Indian-founded companies has increased slightly, from 13.4 percent to 14 percent.57
The awarding of two science Nobel Prizes to Hindu-Indian Americans (1968 and 1983) – as well as the presence of four Indian Americans on Forbes’ 2015 list of the 400 richest Americans, further attests to the remarkable rise and achievements of the Indian American community.
Indian Americans are also increasingly integrating into U.S. politics.58 It is only in the last two decades that Indian Americans have started to organize themselves politically, via the creation of several prominent advocacy groups and lobbies, and to build behind-the-scenes strategic influence. In the past several years, they have been entering public service and political life in growing numbers. So far, three Indian Americans have been elected to the House of Representatives, one of whom, Bobby Jindal, later became Governor of Louisiana. Nikki Haley (born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa) was elected governor of South Carolina in 2011, the first woman to hold that office. In 2017, President Donald Trump appointed Haley U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
The second Obama administration invited a record number of Indian Americans to high-ranking positions, from the White House to the Departments of State, Defense, and Treasury. Indian Americans, like Jewish Americans, prefer the Democrats to the Republicans (65 and 66 percent respectively, compared to 49 percent of the general public).59 Interestingly, both Jindal and Haley are Republicans.
Apart from the plethora of day-to-day contacts between American Indians and Jews, the Indian rise in the United States will likely have wider implications for the relationship between the Indian and Jewish peoples as well as for India and Israel. These implications have so far been barely analyzed.
The formation of strong political ties between the Jewish and Indian leaderships and communities in the United States
In the last two decades, American Jewish groups have been very active in cultivating strong political links between the Jewish and Indian leaderships in the U.S., and between the Indian, American, and Israeli leaderships. Senior representatives of AIPAC and of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), among others, visit New Delhi on a regular basis and bring frequent delegations of Indian policy makers, think tank members, and journalists to the United States and Israel to discuss issues of common concern. In addition, the AJC has been at the forefront of endeavors to build bridges between Indian Americans and Jewish Americans. It has carried out a series of initiatives on the national and regional levels to expand dialogue and mutual understanding with the Indian community, as it has done in the past with the Latino and African American communities. It has also endeavored to forge business links between Indian Americans and Jews. In addition, AJC sponsored and participated in the interfaith dialogue of Jewish and Hindu leaders, and it coordinated several delegations of Indian Muslim leaders to Israel (more about this later).
American Jewish lobbies as models and partners of Indian lobbies in the United States
As Indian Americans recognized the success of American Jewish organizations in the political and other arenas, they began to look to these organizations as models and partners, and Jewish organizations were happy to respond. American Jewish lobbies have actively supported and contributed to the formation and success of Indian lobbies and have often served as organizational and developmental models. The Congressional India Caucus, now the largest caucus in Congress, the U.S. India Political Action Committee (USINPAC), the first and leading Indian lobbying group in the United States, and the Hindu American Foundation were all founded with the close support and encouragement of AJC and/or AIPAC. USINPAC continues to rely on many of the same methods and tactics used by AIPAC when lobbying Congress – including, for instance, letter writing campaigns and donations to targeted Congressional candidates. The Hindu American Foundation is also looking to ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center for guidance in advocacy and lobbying. Emulating the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s work against anti-Semitic hate speech, the Hindu American Foundation released its own report in 2007 about online hatred and bigotry against Hindus.60 It also runs an internship program giving Hindu university students the opportunity to take their first steps as Congressional lobbyists in defense of Hinduism and global Hindu challenges. Other organizations, such as the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) have benefited from AJC and AIPAC support. In addition, the Indian community has emulated Jewish organizations at the grassroots level. India Community Centers, like Jewish Community Centers, offer a large number of educational, cultural, identity-building, and recreational programs to Indian communities.
Rationale for cooperation
If it is primarily the real or perceived Jewish influence on American politics and society that has attracted the interest of Indian Americans, Jewish organizations have come to view providing support and assistance to the Indian American community as an investment in the future. They are convinced that the Indian lobby and Indian Americans generally will become increasingly powerful in America and may, in turn, play a significant role in helping to defend not only Indian, but also Jewish and Israeli interests. Nobody would have predicted a half century ago that Evangelical Christians would become Israel’s most committed non-Jewish supporters in the United States.
Two other factors encourage cooperation between Indian and Jewish Americans. First is a strong perception of commonality between Jews and Indians. Both are small minorities that enjoy comparatively high levels of education and wealth. Both also have similar value systems, particularly their commitment to education, family ties, and respect for tradition. Moreover, both have had to cope with prejudice and discrimination, against which Jews have fought successfully.
The second major factor driving cooperation are shared concerns and interests. In particular, both sides (at least a part of the Jewish community) support medical-malpractice reform, the development of hate crime legislation, and improvement of immigrant rights. Although the latter is no longer a particular Jewish concern, American Jews, who remember the price the Jewish people paid when America’s doors were closed during World War II, are ready to assist the Indians. But the key driver of Indian-Jewish cooperation in the United States, and its most visible and far-reaching results so far are found not in domestic, but in foreign, defense and nuclear policies.
Indian-Jewish cooperation to support common security and defense interests: Islamic terrorism, Israel’s Phalcon deal with India and the U.S.-India nuclear deal
Foremost among the shared concerns of the two communities is the fight against Islamic radicalism and terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East and South Asia, which are serious challenges for both India and Israel. Jewish and Indian groups in the United States support the formation of deeper Indo-Israeli-U.S. ties to combat the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and militancy. American Jewish lobbies have consistently supported Indian concerns within the U.S. political establishment. They have helped garner U.S. support for India on the Kashmir issue. In 2003, for instance, they joined Indian voices in the Congress requesting an amendment to a $3 billion U.S. aid package for Pakistan. The amendment, which was adopted, called on Pakistan to cease the transfer of weapons of mass destruction and related technologies to any third country or terrorist organization, and to stop cross-border attacks on India.
In addition, American Jewish and Indian advocacy groups and lobbies have worked together to pressure the U.S. administration to endorse Israel’s sales of “sensitive” weapons systems and technologies to India. In particular, whereas in 2003 USINPAC, AJC and AIPAC failed to convince the U.S. administration to let India purchase Israel’s Arrow anti-ballistic missile defense system, in 2004 the role of joint Indo-Jewish lobbying was instrumental in obtaining the Bush administration’s approval of Israel’s sale of the Phalcon aerial reconnaissance aircraft to India.
Finally, the assistance of American Jewish lobbies was essential for securing the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement, colloquially called the “U.S.-India Nuclear Deal.” The framework for this agreement was a July 18, 2005 joint statement by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and U.S. President George W. Bush, under which India agreed to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and to place all civil nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards; in exchange, the United States agreed to work toward full civil nuclear cooperation with India. This U.S.-India deal took more than three years to complete as it had to go through several complex stages, including amendment of U.S. domestic law, adoption of a civil-military nuclear separation plan in India, conclusion of an India-IAEA safeguards agreement and grant of an exemption to India by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an export-control body that had been formed largely in response to India’s first nuclear test in 1974. The deal represented a watershed in international relations, not only because it ended India’s international isolation in certain scientific and technological fields, but even more because it signaled the U.S. decision to treat India henceforth as a major power on par in nuclear matters with other permanent members of the UN Security Council. This meant that in the future, India was no longer to be judged by the criteria applied to Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, or Iran who refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or had broken it. However, important members of Congress whose support was critical were still skeptical. As these members were also friends of Israel, American Jewish advocacy groups put considerable energy into lobbying individual Congress members and persuading them of the benefits to the U.S. of such an agreement with India. The deal was finally approved in 2008. Neither Israel nor American Jewry has asked India for a quid pro quo for its political support. Thus, American Jewish organizations hope that their support in this particular case too would be an “investment in the future.”